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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Just when you thought it was safe to leave the shelter of the world behind the sofa here come not one, not two, but three monsters – Dracula, The Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster! And with them comes the most preposterous plot of all! Mad scientist Boris Karloff escapes from prison thanks to a thunderstorm; with a hunchback assistant he takes the persona of the owner of a travelling chamber of horrors. Within days he has got his hands on the three monsters already named, finding the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man encased in ice in a cave, and he punctuates his desire for revenge with experiments in brain transplants! In the end, everybody dies.

Whether or not the plot is silly, to say the least, the music is superb!

Hans J Salter was another refugee from Nazi Germany, a man who studied with Alban Berg and Franz Schreker, who made his career in Hollywood. His collaborator, Paul Dessau, had arrived in America in 1939 after a career in Europe as both composer and conductor. He was made more politically aware through wartime collaboration with Brecht and joined the American Communist Party in 1946, returning to East Berlin two years later. His collaboration with Brecht continued, and after the writer’s death took to writing using Schoenberg’s twelve note technique and supporting the growing West European avant-garde.

This disk gives us the complete score for the film – 55 minutes of the most eerie and atmospheric music, with the most evocative titles – Rendezvous with Dracula, Death of the Unholy Two and Liquefying Brains. What a score it is and what marvellous work John Morgan has done in his reconstruction from a three line piano score – Universal having destroyed all their old horror film scores. The orchestration is fully 1940s horror and the music sounds incredibly modern – so much so that when the Moscow musicians were recording the score they wondered if it was from a modern film. This is music for film which was truly ahead of its time.

Having already written about seven of these disks in the Naxos Film Music Classics series there is little new I can say. The production values are high, the recordings full and spacious, the performances totally committed, the booklet helpful and detailed and the standard of scholarship without peer.

How about giving us some David Raksin? I’d put The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), The Big Combo (1955) and Al Capone (1959) on the list for a start. Am I being greedy? Of course I am, but Naxos cannot, after what we’ve already heard, stop giving us such quality recordings.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, October 2007

For some perfect Halloween music, look no further than this reissue of the complete House of Frankenstein film score composed by Hans J. Salter (1896-1994) with a little help from Paul Dessau (1894-1979). Not only that, but this Naxos re-release is less than half the price of the original one on Marco Polo.

It's hard to think of Salter, who was born in Austria and classically trained (he even studied with Alban Berg), as the man who wrote the music for the Universal Studios' Frankenstein movies. But he did, and over the years these scores have become classics in their own right. That's particularly true of House... which was made in 1944. It's the who's who of horror movies whose characters include a mad doctor (Boris Karloff), his evil assistant (J. Carrol Naish), Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr) and of course, the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). Back in those days Hollywood composers usually had to borrow heavily from other in-house scores in order to meet the incredibly demanding deadlines imposed on them by the studios. But that's certainly not the case here where Salter came up with one of his most original creations. All of the main characters have associated leitmotifs that recur throughout the film, and the variety of thematic invention is astounding. There are striking three and four-note rhythmic motifs, gypsy airs and a host of other monster melodies that'll keep you guessing as to what’s going bump in the night.

The "Death of the Unholy Two" cue is a magnificently chaotic conclusion to this horror of horror movies, where everyone is done in. Salter's classical background is very much in evidence, because you'll hear references to Beethoven and Webern, while there are stylistic similarities to the music of other twentieth century composers like Honegger and Busoni.

We have John Morgan and William Stromberg, who is also the conductor here, to thank for painstakingly reconstructing this score from a bewildering variety of sources. These included original three-line piano reductions as well as the soundtrack itself. Stromberg elicits an enthusiastic performance from the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, whose Eastern origins are quite in keeping with the Magyar and Transylvanian locations usually associated with a couple of the films creatures.

While the recorded sound on this disc is certainly far superior to the original soundtrack, it is a bit on the dry side. If you enjoy this CD, do try the recent Naxos releases of the complete film scores for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by Max Steiner as well as The Sea Hawk and Deception by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, also done by Stromberg and his Muscovites.

Andrew Carach-Colton
Gramophone, October 2007

Something old, something new... a fine tribute but Du Pré lives on in the music

Who was Jacqueline du Pré? (2001) is Christopher Nupen's third documentary film about the great English cellist who died of multiple sclerosis two decades ago. In it, the film-maker interviews du Pré's colleagues and friends, who all pay loving, wide-eyed tribute not only to her staggering musical gifts but also to her girlish exuberance, lack of pretension and emotional sincerity. It's all very touching, of course, though if you've seen Nupen's previous films - Jacqueline du Pré and the Elgar Cello Concerto (1982) and RememberingJacquline du Pré (1994), the latter helpfully reissued to conclude this programme - I doubt you'll find much new. And an appended video montage (with still and moving images forming a visual accompaniment to du Prés and Barenboim's recording of the first movement of Brahms's E minor Cello Sonata) struck me as a bit maudlin. Perhaps the most affecting portion is a 1980 interview, originally taped for the Elgar Concerto documentary and presented here in its unedited entirety for the first time. Not only does Pres radiant personality shine through its 15 minutes, but also a deeply affecting feeling of quiet sadness that's all the more potent for being entirely free of self-pity.

Nupen says that he made his most recent film to counteract some of the myths that have arisen about the cellist in the years since her death. Still, I'd wager that Who was Jacqueline du Pré? is a question answered most forcefully by her recordings. As her friend, the pianist Fou Ts'ong puts it: "I always heard in her music the person she is. And music never lies."

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2007

Hans Salter had been a composition pupil of Alban Berg who was enjoying life conducing operettas in Vienna before the rise to power of the Third Reich prompted him to sail to safety in the United States. With his work in music for Berlin’s famous UFA studios to give him an entree into the Hollywood film studios he was hired producing hack music for low-budget productions from Universal films. His big break came with the task of supplying backing for monster films, having already orchestrated Frank Skinner’s score for Son of Frankenstein shortly after he arrived in America. In later life Salter recalled that the quantity of music he supplied for a film depended upon the degree of support he thought it needed. For his undoubted masterpiece in this genre, House of Frankenstein, he must have thought the film was in desperate need - which it certainly was - as his score runs almost the length of the soundtrack. Incredibly it was completed in little more than two weeks, a schedule which called on a dual role of working with Paul Dessau, a well planned relationship as he too had fled from Nazi Germany, his composition mentors including Schoenberg and Klemperer. Even then the duo resorted to garnering from stock Universal scores, including, rather ironically, Frank Skinner’s music. The result was, as we hear from this disc, a symphonic experience. Sample tracks 13 and 14 (Dracula pursued and destroyed) to taste the big-boned concept. Sadly Universal had destroyed the scores by the time this complete recording was agreed, and it was left to John Morgan to work from a short score and using the film soundtrack to create the original orchestration, no mean task in some of the massively scored episodes. Eventually recorded in Moscow in 1994 and originally released on the Marco Polo, the Moscow Symphony were at times stretched working in an unusual idiom, but created with uncanny accuracy the many ghoulish sounds often demanded. Its reissue on Naxos will be welcomed by film buffs.

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